Kerala flooded.

Kerala flooded.

Kerala still under red alert; death toll 174; army, navy rescue on war footing

Airlines asked to mount additional flights to Kerala, cap maximum air fares

Agency Report | Thiruvananthapuram/Kochi/New Delhi | 17 August, 2018 | 11:10 PM

The death toll in rain-battered Kerala touched 174 as a red alert continued in 12 districts, with various agencies continuing the rescue operations after rains subsided to evacuate over 80,000 persons during the day.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media in the night that the situation arising out of unprecedented floods and subsequent havoc caused by turgid rivers and gushing waters in Kerala continues to be “grave”.

He said that since August 8 — when the rains began pounding the southern state — as 3,14,391 persons have been lodged in 2,094 relief camps across Kerala.

“The worst affected districts include Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur,” Vijayan said after a review meeting with state officials.

Hundreds of defence personnel, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams, helped by more than 20 helicopters, mounted search and rescue operations. Fishermen along with their motorboats too joined the humanitarian efforts.

More helicopters were pressed into service on Friday to fly sorties for rescue and relief.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman sanctioned the extra choppers, as people marooned in Chengannur and Chalakudy could only be airlifted to safety.

Waters from the Periyar river and its tributaries kept many towns in Ernakulam and Thrissur districts submerged. The worst affected include Paravur, Kalady, Chalakudy, Perumbavoor and Muvatupuzha.

“We have no food. There are 150 persons waiting to be rescued,” rued a group of people who sent a video clip to TV channels from Chalakudy.

Thousands of people are still perched on high-rise buildings waiting to be rescued and taken to relief camps. Over 50,000 people are lodged in the Ernakulam and Thrissur camps alone.

Intensity of rains, however, decreased in several districts since Friday morning, leading to decrease in water level in three big dams in Idukki district.

The red alert in Kasargode and Thiruvananthapuram districts was withdrawn on Friday though the warning continued in other 12 districts in Kerala.

“On Saturday, 25 big Army boats will be deployed for evacuation in Kalady, Chengannur and Thiruvalla. More helicopters will be used for rescue and relief. We are confident that by Saturday, we will be able to rescue all those awaiting help,” the Chief Minister said.

In the morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the flood situation with Vijayan over phone. He was slated to arrive in the state in the evening and undertake an aerial survey of the affected areas on Saturday.

Vijayan pointed out that 40,000 policemen, 3,200 firefighters, 18 teams of the Army, 28 of Coast Guard, 39 of NDRF and 46 of Navy were engaged in rescue operations. As many as 82,442 persons were rescued on Friday, Vijayan said.

“The Centre has allowed the use of the Cochin naval airbase for commercial operations of small aircraft, as the Cochin International Airport has been closed due to flooding. Punjab, Maharashtra, and Telangana have said they will provide food packets while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has pledged Rs 10 crore and other help,” Vijayan said.

Waters in Idukki and Wayanad areas and certain areas of Pathanathitta has receded, he said.

“One big problem that rescue teams are facing is that some people are unwilling to move to the relief camps. This is not good for their safety,” the Chief Minister added.

Many people, especially in Kuttanadu area, refused to move to the camps, Finance Minister Thomas Issac said. Rising waters forced them to change their plan.

Idukki’s senior revenue official M.P. Vinod said that with lesser rains, water level in various dams in Idukki had come down.

“The biggest problem is disruption in telecommunication facilities… We are unable to communicate freely. All relief camps are functioning well and none has any complaint. In Munnar, I am given to understand that the Army is restoring damaged roads. Another huge problem is spread of fake news, which has to be tackled,” Vinod said.

Helicopters loaded with food packets took off from the state capital and dropped these in central districts.

Authorities in worst-affected districts took help of big lorries to navigate flooded roads to reach those marooned in small pockets.

Amid the grim scenario in the state, there was good news: A pregnant woman Sajitha Jabeel airlifted on Friday morning by a Navy rescue team from a waterlogged place near Aluva delivered a baby boy at the Kochi Naval Base hospital soon after she was admitted.

Meanwhile, authorities in Ernakulam faced problems as a camp set up at U.C. College at Aluva was overcrowded with over 8,000 people.

Aluva legislator Anwar Sadat said shortage of fuel was hampering rescue as only boats were being pressed into service.

“Things are very bad. Aluva is completely marooned. People have no food or water. Our only solace is the numerous fishermen who are rescuing us.

“But now even their families are asking them to return. More defence personnel are required to speed up the rescue and relief,” Sadat said while pleading for help.

The central district of Pathanamthitta is also facing destruction as overflowing Pamba river has inundated several towns. Ranni, Kozhenchery continue to be completely submerged.

Hundreds of fishermen from coastal villages of Thiruvananthapuram arrived at Pathanamthitta and began rescue even as helicopters too began to airlift affected persons to safer places.

On Friday, Achenkovil river overflowed into Pandalam town. A boat overturned while carrying out the rescue work, but luckily all on board were saved.

The MeT office forecast lesser rains in Kerala till Saturday, which should bring some relief to the embattled authorities.

Rescue operations are progressing well in Malappuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad. In the last two districts, over 20,000 camps have been set up.

Major national and state highways, as well as rail traffic, continued to be disrupted in various parts of the state though more government buses were operated from various depots on Friday.

Railway services between Ernakulam and Thrissur remained suspended even as long- distance trains were diverted via Nagercoil route.

Long queues were witnessed in front of petrol stations across the state following reports of shortage of automobile fuel due to floods.

Leader of the Opposition and Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala told the media that even though one should not be finding faults with the state government, a lot needs to be done as thousands of people are still at risk.

“We do not know who is providing all these figures to the Chief Minister… there seems to be a lack of coordination as people are suffering in relief camps,” he claimed.

Kerala is facing the heaviest rains and consequent floods and destruction since 1924, which the state estimates has caused a loss of Rs 8,000 crore.
The Indian Navy rescued nearly 500 people on Friday, continuing with its massive rescue and relief operations in flood-ravaged Kerala where monsoon rains have left a trail of death and destruction across the state.

On Friday, 58 rescue teams were deployed at multiple locations as part of “Operation Madad” launched nine days ago.

According to officials it is unprecedented in the history of rescue operations by the Navy as the flood situation continued to remain grim all across the southern state.

More than 3,000 people have been rescued since floods hit Kerala 10 days ago, an official spokesperson said.

Efforts continued to bring the flood affected people to safety and also provide them essential supplies such as food and water, the spokesperson said.

The Southern Naval Command on Friday deployed a total of 58 rescue and diving teams with Gemini boats while 18 more teams were sent to various locations to augment the rescue effort.

The spokesperson said 19 teams of rescuers came from the Eastern Naval Command and Western Naval Command.

“Some 500 rescued people have been accommodated at the T2 hangar inside the naval base, a make-shift relief camp, before shifting them to a relief camp at Fort Kochi. (On Friday), 310 people were rescued by the boats and 176 by aircraft,” the spokesperson said.

“All the assets of (Southern Naval Command) have been committed to the operation. Other commands have provided additional disaster relief items comprising 1,000 raincoats, 1,300 gum boots, 264 lifebuoys and 1,000 life jackets. Twenty five more rescue teams with boats are being readied for deployment as per request from the Kerala government.”

The spokesperson said 37 teams with one Gemini boat each were deployed at various places in Ernakulam district.

One team was at Pizhala island, one at Edapally and three at Perumbavur. North Paravur has 16 teams deployed while 12 are at Aluva and four at Muvattupuzha.

In the Thrissur district, the deployment at Chalakkudy was augmented to nine teams, while in Pothanamthitta district, four teams were deployed at Chengannur and one team each at Ayroor and Pollad. One team is positioned at Kottayam.

“In addition, all air assets available at INS Garuda have been extensively utilised for winching up stranded personnel, transfer of stores, boats, relief material. Air rescue has been carried out at various places of the three badly affected districts — Thrissur, Ernakulam and Pathanamthitta.

“Aircraft including ALH, Sea King, Chetak and MI 17 (of IAF) were able to rescue people (stranded in flood). Food was airdropped on the roof tops of various houses, churches. A total of 50 air sorties amounting to 80 hours have been flown,” said the spokesperson.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived on Friday night to see for himself the rain-battered Kerala and also survey the relief and rescue operations.

The Prime Minister was received by Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, his cabinet colleagues among others.

He will spend the night at the Kerala Raj Bhavan, the official residence of the Governor.

On Saturday, Modi along with Vijayan will make an aerial survey of the worst affected districts. Before returning to Delhi from Kochi, the Prime Minister will chair a meeting to discuss the grave situation in the state.

Earlier in the day Modi had tweeted “Later this evening, I will be heading to Kerala to take stock of the unfortunate situation due to flooding.”

“Had a telephone conversation with Kerala Chief Minister…We discussed the flood situation across the state and reviewed rescue operations.”
The civil aviation regulator DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) has asked domestic airlines to mount additional flights to and from Kerala with a cap on the maximum fare.

The advisory came as the state reeled under torrential rain and the worst floods in the recent past.

The grim situation has left the state with only two operational civil airports at Thiruvananthapuram and Calicut, as operations at Cochin airport have been suspended till August 26 on account of rising water levels in the operational area.

“Scheduled domestic airlines have also been advised to ensure that air fares for flights to or from Trivandrum and Calicut airports in Kerala and nearby airports i.e. Mangalore and Coimbatore are kept at optimal level proportionate to sector distance so that travelling public is not inconvenienced,” the Ministry of Civil Aviation said in a statement issued on Friday.

Accordingly, airlines have been requested to cap the maximum fare to around Rs 10,000 on longer routes and around Rs 8,000 on shorter routes to and from Kerala and nearby airports.

“In addition, DGCA is constantly monitoring air fares on 32 direct routes operating to or from Trivandrum, Calicut, Coimbatore and Mangalore,” the statement said.

“Spike in airfare on few routes have been observed. Concerned airlines have been advised to cap the airfare on these flights.”

On Thursday, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu tweeted:

“We have advised airlines to be more sensitive to situation arising out of #KeralaFlooding & keep airfares in check. It’s a humanitarian cause. Thx to all for agreeing with my suggestions to carry free of charge the #KeralaFloodRelief related material. All efforts ongoing for relief.”

A day ago, Minister of Statistics & Programme Implementation D.V. Sadananda Gowda had tweeted: “Private Airlines are at a money making Shame!! Today Mangalore to Bengaluru ticket rate sky-rocketed to Rs 18,000. This route’s average rate is never more than Rs 4,000. It’s time to introduce more flights @jayantsinha.”
Indian Army troops and Navy divers joined the national and state disaster relief forces to rescue hundreds of people marooned in Karnataka’s flood-hit Kodagu district, said an official statement on Friday.

“About 60 Dogra Regiment soldiers and 12 expert naval divers rescued 873 marooned people in the flood-hit district, where overnight heavy rains caused landslides and inundated low-lying areas at Makkanduru,” said the statement from the Chief Minister’s office here.

Kodagu, about 250 km from Bengaluru, is one of the districts in the southern state worst hit by the south-west monsoon rains since June first week.

The Army’s engineering task force deployed 73 boats, equipment and rafts in rescuing the people and escorting them to safer places in the district.

About 60 members of the national and state disaster relief forces and 45 members of the civil defence joined the rescue and relief operations with boats and equipment in Madikeri in the hilly district.

“Though the Indian Air Force (IAF) aborted rescue mission due to inclement weather, it will fly M17 chopper from Mysuru on Saturday to rescue the remaining stranded and transport relief supplies,” noted the statement.

About 200 personnel of the state fire service had rescued people in flood-hit towns and villages across the district with their boats and equipment.

“Telecom services, disrupted due to rains and strong winds uprooting poles and snapping phone lines, are being restored on priority. HAM operators have been deployed as back-up. Power lines are also being restored,” said the statement.

The district administration has housed 573 persons in 17 relief camps.

Intra and inter-state bus and train services between Karnataka and flood-hit Kerala were suspended due to landslides and rain water submerging the highways and roads in the ghat section.

State-run and private bus services from Mysuru and Chamarajanagar to Ooty and Coonoor hill stations in Tamil Nadu were suspended due to flooding and fallen trees blocking the routes in the ghat section.

According to the weather office, rain fury continued in the state’s coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada, disrupting normal life, including vehicular movement of goods and people.

Incessant rains lashed the Malnad region, flooding several areas in Shivamogga, Hassan and Chikkamagaluru districts.

Schools and colleges will remain shut even on Saturday in the affected districts due to flooding and disruption of bus services.

The state’s meteorological department has warned of moderate to heavy rain in coastal, south interior and north interior areas of the state till Sunday. (IANS)